Dali’s ‘Spectre’ Painting Little Known, Ideal for Halloween!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
One of the most exciting things for me in this lifelong Dali adventure is encountering never-before or seldom seen works by the Surrealist master. It’s almost like the sublime feeling a scientist must get when the archaeological dig he or she is on suddenly turns up an ancient artifact of startling significance.
Today I’m focusing on an early Salvador Dali painting that was reproduced only in black & white in the big DALI book by Descharnes & Neret – Dali, The Paintings – which has unofficially come to be considered the catalog raisone of Dali oil paintings.
Otherwise, to my knowledge, it was never seen in any popular, English-language book on Dali, until it came up in color in the beautiful catalog produced for the big Dali retrospective held at the George Pompidou Center in Paris November 21, 2012 – March 25, 2013, after which it moved on to the Museo Nacional Centra de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.
The picture is “Spectre,” painted in 1934, a very fertile time in Dali’s surrealist period, in which a number of other important Dali paintings invite comparison to it.
While many of Salvador Dali’s works are dreamlike and often pinned on his personal mythology, not all that many are necessarily what I would call “haunting.” But with Halloween just around the corner, I think the little-known “Spectre” – 27.5 inches x 23.5 inches – unquestionably qualifies as haunting and spooky.
There is great ambiguity in the central figure, eerily cloaked, sporting what appears to be a skull on its head. It’s holding, or at least juxtaposed with what looks simultaneously like a mirror and the face of a clock. The ghostly aura to it all accords with the work’s title and certainly presents us with an evocative image to ponder.
Meanwhile, the other figure embodies elements from at least four other well-known Dali paintings, and below it, the birds hovering above a barren ground recall Dali’s “Javanese Mannequin” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida), painted the same year as “Spectre” and somewhat haunting in its own right.
The impossibly elongated leg of the kneeling figure, on which a wine bottle and glass rest, was seen the same year, 1934, in Dali’s dandy little oil, “The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can be Used as a Table,” also in the Florida Dali Museum.
The sacks in the shoulder and abdominal area of the kneeling figure are seen almost identically in Dali’s tiny jewel-like canvas, “The Specter of Sex Appeal” – one of the finest works in the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain.
Meanwhile, the “head” here of potted flowers would essentially be seen the next year when Dali created the important Surrealist painting, “Woman with Head of Roses” (1935, Kunsthaus Zurich, Zurich).
The knife cutting into the buttocks area of the kneeling figure in “Spectre” finds an echo in “Autumn Cannibalism” of 1936 (Tate Gallery, London).
The privately owned “Spectre” ironically melds images from some five other, well-known Dali paintings, yet itself has pretty much remained under the radar for many decades. With Halloween creeping closer, it seems to me Dali’s “Spectre” needs to be dusted off and hung right beside all those nooses and skeletons and other sooky props we’ll soon be encountering on the scariest night of the year!